We all know that renting in London is pretty bleak – poor conditions, high costs and small spaces.
But one woman claims that her health problems, including exhaustion, memory loss and her hair coming out in clumps, have been caused by living in a mouldy flat.
At first, when Emma Marshall, 29, who works in the music industry, moved in to a property in Hackney, east London, in 2014, and noticed “thick black mould” in the bathroom, she did not think much of it.
But, since moving out the following year, her health has steadily declined, as symptoms such as brain fog, chronic nerve pain and skin rashes have taken over.
At her wits’ end when GPs could not suggest a solution, Emma sought help from a functional medicine specialist – a form of alternative medicine which looks at patients holistically and tries to determine the root cause, rather than treating individual symptoms.
In February 2019 she was shocked to discover that her levels of mycotoxins – which, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are naturally occurring toxins produced by mould, and can pose a serious health threat – were sky high.
Convinced it was breathing in toxins while living in the mouldy flat that triggered her nightmare, Emma said: ‘When I met with the functional medicine doctor, we talked about the kind of environment I lived and worked in, and as soon as I said I started to feel unwell in 2014, when I lived in the flat, something clicked.
‘Since then, my body has broken and continued to be slowly poisoned over the years.’
Before 2014, Emma was the picture of health, enjoying a fast-paced life working in the glamorous music industry.
Then, after a year of living in her old flat, she moved out to be closer to her new job – blissfully unaware of the string of health issues that were to come.
She said: ‘I’d had a few symptoms, like acne, exhaustion and aches and pains throughout my body, but I thought it was down to stress and working a lot.
‘People are used to living around mould and not knowing what it’s doing to their body and, at that point, I had never heard of mycotoxins.’
In February 2015, she had a serious kidney infection, which resulted in her needing a catheter – a thin, flexible tube used to empty the bladder – to be fitted for two weeks.
Then, in April, she had a nasty fall in the street and fractured her arm, which led to nerve pain so terrible in her arm, shoulder and neck, she was scarcely able to move.
She then needed her appendix removed, after experiencing severe abdominal pain.
For months, she was passed around various different doctors – but nobody seemed to know why her body was reacting so extremely.
‘Nobody ever questioned why my body broke down so severely in so many different ways. I was simply called unlucky,’ she said.
Since then, her life has been taken over by ailments including flu-like symptoms, nerve, joint and muscular pain, headaches, memory loss, brain fog, insomnia, rashes, acne, thinning hair and facial swelling.
‘Because the doctors couldn’t find anything, you think it’s all in your head and so just feel like you have to get on with it,’ she continued.
‘It is a very isolating place to be in, though. Knowing something is wrong and not being heard tests your strength and makes you feel like you’re screaming into an abyss.
‘I would wonder why I couldn’t do certain things, but then also had to just accept how I was as my new normality. At my worst, I could only just about manage getting a taxi to work, then I’d go home and go straight to bed.
‘People would think I was just being dramatic, which would make me isolate myself even more.’
Towards the end of 2018, Emma hit rock bottom, and became so unwell that she was more or less bedbound.
Desperate for answers, she took to the internet and stumbled upon a page about mycotoxin poisoning.
After researching more, she became convinced that is what she had, and paid to see a private functional medicine doctor, who tested her via a urine sample.
Speaking about the results she received last month, which revealed she did indeed have mycotoxin poisoning, Emma said: ‘Functional medicine is amazing when it comes to chronic illness.
‘They can piece everything together like a puzzle, rather than just treating the symptoms.
‘The best service you can do for yourself when it comes to healthcare is to combine functional and western medicine.
‘The results really shocked me. I figured I’d likely have some mycotoxins in my system, but the doctor told me my levels were off the charts.
‘He asked how I felt, and I said, “I know this sounds dramatic, but I feel as if I am dying, and the life is being slowly sucked out of me.”
‘It was traumatic knowing my body was failing and not to know why. Now it’s just as scary to discover I was being slowly poisoned.’
Determined to get well again, Emma is fully detoxing her system, and has set up a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of her ongoing care.
Using an alternative approach, she plans to take binders – which aim to ‘trap’ toxins and help move them out of the body – for around a year, before also having a type of stem cell rejuvenation.
With the funds raised through her GoFundMe page, she is hoping to travel to a specialist clinic called Sanoviv in Mexico for the treatment.
‘Healing is not quick and simple. It’s not a case of taking a pill and fixing something, but of finding the root cause and doing everything in my power to reset it,’ she said
By speaking out, she hopes to raise awareness of mould and mycotoxin poisoning in the hope that, one day, it will be better understood by both medical professionals and members of the public alike
Emma is now fundraising and is also encouraging others to Tweet under the hashtag #ButYouLookFine to help raise awareness of invisible illnesses.
Emma raise funds and awareness, continued: ‘The NHS is an amazing service, despite being underfunded and overworked, and the people who work in it and save lives daily are incredible. But the research into mycotoxins simply isn’t there, let alone the treatment.
‘We’re having to catch up to all these relatively new illnesses that can damage lives, with no quick fix.
‘I would really like to see testing for mycotoxin poisoning as standard protocol, especially if someone is living in a mouldy environment – but I know change must come from the top down, and not within the NHS.
‘Not everybody will have as adverse a reaction as me, but those that do should be dealt with straight away and listened to.
‘Diseases that aren’t widely heard of are scary, and people don’t always know what to say or do. What people don’t understand is that the person going through them will need to rebuild not just their body, but their whole life too – so please show love and support through those scary times.’